Read food labels, junk false health-gain claims - Hindustan Times
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Read food labels, junk false health-gain claims

Apr 26, 2024 10:10 PM IST

The revelation that Nestle allegedly adds sugar to its various Cerelac cereals by a Swiss NGO and the International Baby Food Action Network has sparked a storm

Why would a giant multinational add sugar to a baby product?

The Nestle logo is pictured on the company headquarters building in Vevey, Switzerland.(Reuters)
The Nestle logo is pictured on the company headquarters building in Vevey, Switzerland.(Reuters)

Come to think of it, that’s the second question to ask after the first: Why is there even a distinction between Nestle’s baby products sold in markets in Africa, Latin America and South Asia and the same brands sold across Europe?

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The revelation that Nestle allegedly adds sugar to its various Cerelac cereals by a Swiss NGO, Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network has, quite rightly, sparked a storm.

In Europe, the same Cerelac is sold minus any added sugar.

So, why bother to add sugar? Because it makes that bowl of cereal more palatable. When mothers see their babies eat their sugary baby food without a fuss, they are more likely to buy it. They are more likely to even prefer it to simple home-cooked preparations which, minus sugar, are also less palatable.

We know that sugar for anyone is bad. But in infants it has catastrophic implications, creating a palate for sugary food later in life, ergo our obesity epidemic; ergo our spike in lifestyle-related disease from diabetes to heart disease.

Nestle’s sugar scandal dredges up memories of the infamous marketing techniques by the big manufacturers of formula milk in the 1970s when Nestle and others were accused of pushing formula milk in countries where poor mothers were being convinced that tin milk was better than breast milk.

In 2015, another Nestle top-seller, Maggi noodles, came under fire for its unacceptable levels of MSG and lead. Some 38,000 tonnes of Maggi noodles were withdrawn from retail shelves and destroyed.

How is it that a global conglomerate seems to find itself in controversy multiple times?

Partly it’s to do with lax regulations that allow a Patanjali to make ludicrous claims or an MDH and Everest masala to get away with ingredients they would have had to remove in other parts of the world. But apart from regulations is the reality that Nestle is in the business of selling its products not creating health awareness.

Ultimately, it’s on us as consumers to demand better products with cleaner ingredients. It’s on us to read labels — Cerelac products mention the amount of added sugar — and reject harmful products. And it’s on us to know what’s bad for us and our children.

In April 2023, social media influencer Revant Himatsingka posted a video rubbishing the health benefits claimed by Bournvita to his 2.1 million followers on Instagram. The video went viral; the manufacturers of Bournvita, sent him a legal notice and the video was pulled down with an apology.

But there’s an interesting postscript. In December, Cadbury announced that it had brought down its sugar content by nearly 15%. Claiming victory for the move, Himatsingka posted: “If all Indians started reading food labels companies wouldn’t dare falsely market themselves. The fight isn’t against Bournvita. The fight is against any company which sells junk food but markets itself healthy.”

Namita Bhandare writes on gender and other social issues. The views expressed are personal

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